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Paul Bussetti, 49, who has been sentenced at Westminster Magistrates' Court

Paul Bussetti, 49, who has been sentenced at Westminster Magistrates' Court

Paul Bussetti, 49, who has been sentenced at Westminster Magistrates’ Court

A property tycoon has avoided jail after pleading guilty to sending a ‘grossly offensive’ viral video of a cardboard model of Grenfell Tower being burned on a bonfire. 

Paul Bussetti, 49, from Croydon, south London, admitted one count when he appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today.

Property developer Bussetti had originally been found not guilty after a two-day trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in August 2019, but in July 2021 the High Court quashed the acquittal and ordered a retrial following an appeal from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Bussetti filmed the footage, which was taken at an annual bonfire party hosted by a friend in November 2018, and was shared in WhatsApp groups.

It prompted outrage when it was shared widely online and made the national news, and was criticised as ‘vile’ by a relative of one of the 72 victims of the 2017 disaster in West London.

Bussetti was today sentenced to 10 weeks in jail, suspended for two years.

Prosecutors at the original trial had argued that the footage, which shows cardboard figures being burned as the model went up in flames, was racist in showing black and brown characters representing victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze, which killed 72 people in 2017.

The court heard there were direct and indirect references to the residents of Grenfell Tower in the footage.

They included comments of: ‘Who’s jumping?’; ‘Don’t worry, stay in your flats’; and ‘Jump out of the window’.

The court heard Bussetti said: ‘That’s what happens when you don’t pay the rent.’

Bussetti had claimed the characters were images of his associates, including a black-clad figure meant to represent a friend who did martial arts and had been referred to as 'little ninja'

Bussetti had claimed the characters were images of his associates, including a black-clad figure meant to represent a friend who did martial arts and had been referred to as 'little ninja'

Bussetti had claimed the characters were images of his associates, including a black-clad figure meant to represent a friend who did martial arts and had been referred to as ‘little ninja’

The defendant also uttered siren noises.

Another person – not Bussetti – made a racist comment, while people present could be heard laughing.

The court heard he handed himself in to police when the footage went viral.

Bussetti sent the video to two WhatsApp groups – one football-related, and one for a holiday group.

Paul Bussetti was found not guilty after a two-day trial at Westminster Magistrates´ Court in August 2019

He is said to have told police: ‘It was all over the telly and so we thought it was better to tell the truth.’

‘It was terrible, definitely offensive to people, it was just complete stupidness (sic), one of those stupid moments.’

A victim impact statement on behalf of the Grenfell victims said: ‘The overall reaction of the Grenfell community was one of shock, horror and outrage.’

Bussetti had claimed that the characters were images of his associates, including a black-clad figure meant to represent a friend who did martial arts and had been referred to as ‘little ninja’.

Near the end of the trial, Bussetti’s lawyers said that a second video of the bonfire existed which they were not previously aware of, meaning there was no way to know which footage had been uploaded to YouTube and gone viral.

Then-Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, who is now a High Court judge, had said she could not be sure he had filmed the video that was widely seen – including by some directly affected by the tragedy.

But in his ruling ordering a retrial, Lord Justice Bean said the trial judge should have found that the two videos of the bonfire were similar.

He said: ‘It may be that the sound quality of Mr Bussetti’s video was not as good as that of the video which we have seen, if it was indeed not the same one, or the camera angle slightly different, but that is of minimal significance.’

The judge continued: ‘Since it was clear for the reasons given above that Mr Bussetti’s video was substantially similar, though maybe not identical, to the one uploaded to YouTube and played in court, the Chief Magistrate was required to consider whether its content was grossly offensive and whether (Bussetti) intended it to be so or was aware that it was likely to be so.’

Lord Justice Bean, sitting with Mr Justice Dove, also rejected Bussetti’s lawyers’ argument that the prosecution’s case was only about racism.

The Grenfell Tower blaze killed 72 people in 2017. Pictured: The covered tower on the fourth anniversary of the fire

The Grenfell Tower blaze killed 72 people in 2017. Pictured: The covered tower on the fourth anniversary of the fire

The Grenfell Tower blaze killed 72 people in 2017. Pictured: The covered tower on the fourth anniversary of the fire

He said: ‘The question was whether Mr Bussetti had sent via WhatsApp a message which he intended to be, or which he was aware might be, grossly offensive to members of the public, in particular members of the Grenfell community, who saw it.

‘Not all the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster were from ethnic minorities, though many were.’

The judge later said that he did not accept Bussetti’s argument – that the figures in the bonfire were his friends – as a defence.

He continued: ‘Even if the trial court accepts that the cut-out figures may have been intended to represent the defendant and his friends, that would not in my view provide a defence to the charge.

‘A member of the Grenfell community or other reasonable member of the public, seeing a video of the effigy, would not know that the figures were intended to be anyone other than the residents of Grenfell Tower.

‘There are no names attached to the cut-out figures; only the name ”Grenfell” at the top of the effigy, which clearly depicts a tall building with people at the windows.’

Mark Summers QC, defending Paul Bussetti, said: ‘He has pleaded guilty today on the basis that it was a reckless act. The basis of plea is important. The defendant did not construct the model, his criminality rests in filming it.

‘It was brought into the garden by someone else and he shared the video on a private, encrypted Whatsapp group. Of course it was a grossly offensive video but that was not the intention.

‘His intention was to make an ill advised and suggestive joke in relation to friends. It was those friends who were in large measure represented in the windows.

‘The defendant did not utter the racist remarks nor respond to them. His criminality lies in the recklessness in sending the video to the Whatsapp group.’  

Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring said: ‘When I read the material of this case and saw the video like everyone on the internet I was horrified. I am sure you were when you reflected and surrendered yourself to the police station.

‘There were 72 people who lost their lives. I cannot imagine how many people would have been impacted, friends, family and the wider community, probably into the thousands.

‘Whatever the extent of your involvement there is very little that mitigates the impact of what you did. It was disgusting, disrespectful and offensive.

‘I suspect it was offensive to almost anyone with any ounce of decency about them.

‘It was inevitable in my view that the result of what you did was the targeting of vulnerable victims of the fire.

‘I also agree that harm must also be high because there was substantial distress caused to the Grenfell fire and the wider community.

‘There is a reason why the video, whether it was the one you sent or not, went viral: because of its impact.

‘What struck me and horrified me was that not one person at that party seemed to be upset, embarrased or outraged by the racist remarks.’

 

Source: Daily Mail

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